25 April, 2017
THE PROS AND CONS OF CHICKEN FARMING BY CITY SLICKERS
When I was a kid growing up in Dresden, ON. we (my dad and I) raised Angora rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, and chickens, all with the thought of "getting rich quick". Only trouble was, the furry and feathery creatures all became pets to one degree or another.
It broke our hearts when the cute little chinchillas were ravaged in an ugly attack by a pack of wild dogs. We learned the hard way that clipping the rabbits for their fur at minimal financial return was extremely labor-intensive. We were never able to get the chickens to lay eggs in spite of our efforts to stimulate them by placing egg-like ivory door knobs in their nests. The hamsters simply outgrew us by multiplying so fast that we ran out of space to cage them in our garage and had no choice but to eventually get rid of them as best we could, in any way possible...But that's another issue.
Long story made short -- in-town or urban farming was an ill-advised, losing proposition for the Wrights! Our chickens never laid eggs, but we ourselves sure as heck laid more than one! Ever since that early experience, my philosophy has been: "Leave farming to the people who do it best -- the farmers!"
In all fairness, however, we did enjoy some success with our substantial vegetable garden; particularly our golden bantam corn which became a well-known and sought-after summer dinner table delicacy in town.
With the preceding still lingering in the recesses of my mind, I have been interested in following the recent "Chickens Come Home to Roost" developments in Saugeen Shores, my place of residence for the past 17 years. All I can think is, the more things change, the more they remain the same and I should add, the more they become complicated. It seems that there are still people who want to raise chickens in their backyards and they are prepared to fight town hall in order to do so.
I suspected that this is all in keeping with the growth of the "locavore" movement in North America.
The past couple of years in particular saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.
Locavore encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.
“The word "locavore" shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”
"Locavore", Oxford's word of the year, was coined several years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.”
Saugeen Shores Town Council (which includes Port Elgin and Southampton), after a third discussion on the subject and in a recorded vote, has approved a two-year pilot project to allow chicken hens within the urban settlement, albeit with several restrictions, that include a registry of hen owners and owners of the property on which hens will be kept. While I think that a Registry is a wonderful idea, I cannot believe the hoops that would-be backyard chicken raisers will have to jump through in Saugeen Shores in order to realizes their ambitions. For instance:
The Registry will contain the following information: a) The name of the owner of property on which hens are kept
b) The street address of the property on which hens are kept
c) The mailing address of the owner of property on which hens are kept
d) A statement from the owner of property on which hens are kept which affirms that all requirements are this by-law will be adhered to
No person shall keep hens on a property except in accordance with the following provisions: a) The owner of the land has paid any applicable fee as authorized by this By-law to register the hens with the Town
b) The owner of the land has provided the necessary information to the Town in respect of the Registry outlined in this by-law
c) The owner resides on the property
d) The property on which the hens are located is zoned R1-Residential One, R2-Residential Two or PD-Planned Development, and any special provisions for the listed zones in the Town’s Zoning By-law
e) The property on which the hens are located is within the Settlement Area of the Town’s Official Plan
f) The property on which the hens are located contains a lawfully existing single detached dwelling unit
g) The property on which the hens are located is 1000 m2 or greater
h) Hens can only be located in the rear yard, as defined in the Town’s Zoning By-law
i) The owner abides by all provisions of this by-law."
All permitted hens are to be kept in a fully enclosed coop or run in a manner that contains the hens on the property and prevents their escape from such coop or run and are to be tagged with sufficient information to identify the owner of the birds. All of which is as it should be.
To me, Saugeen Shores is bending over backwards to accommodate a handful of chicken enthusiasts, dare we call them "locavores", and the aforementioned Registry will go a long way in maintaining a degree of control, but town council would be well advised to take a long hard look at other communities that have implemented such programs.
Granted, it is an idyllic scene from the locavore movement: Plump speckled hens clucking around tiny municipal backyards, laying organic, free-range eggs that can be scooped up mere steps from the doorway. But municipalities across North America are just now starting to see the unforeseen consequences of allowing hipster farmers to raise chickens in their urban backyards: Hundreds of birds are being abandoned by their owners after they’ve become more of a burden than a blessing.
As Canadian cities from Vancouver to Victoria, Montreal to Guelph get used to their new laws allowing urban backyard chickens, animal shelters in these cities are bracing for a future flood of urban chicken refugees. “People don’t realize how much work they actually are,” said Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies based in Ottawa, while acknowledging people who attempt to raise backyard chickens are driven by good intentions -- to be more environmentally conscious, humane and to eat healthier.
“Certainly what is not on people’s radar screens is chickens live eight to 10 years. They don’t lay that whole time,” she said. “So what’s going to happen is we expect to see an influx over the next couple of years as chickens stop laying, people don’t have a humane slaughter plan or haven’t thought through an eight to 10-year plan to take care of chickens that aren’t laying.”
Sayara Thurston, a campaigner for Humane Society International Canada, said hens and roosters have already started appearing in Montreal animal shelters on an almost weekly basis. Abandoned chickens have also been found in boxes behind restaurants. Harsh winters make it tough to have backyard chickens, she added.
“It’s completely understandable that people want to remove themselves from [factory farming],” Thurston allows. “But then the reverse of that is people needing to actually care for these animals, which is something you have to do every day and you have to do it for several years.”
It’s been two years since Vancouver passed its bylaw allowing backyard chickens -- and the law is quite thorough, said Geoff Urton, manager of stakeholder relations at BCSPCA: Residents can only own four hens and no roosters. There’s a minimum distance from your neighbour’s backyard that you can build a chicken coop, and that chicken coop needs to protect the fowl from predators like coyotes and raccoons. The chickens need to be registered online, and an inspector could drop in on you at any time. Urban chicken farmers are also barred from slaughtering the birds themselves, he said, in order to curb botched jobs.
Since chickens only lay eggs for two years, Urton expects to see urban chickens trickling into animal shelters soon. “We’ll need to keep monitoring the situation to make sure as time progresses we don’t end up with an influx in chickens because of this fad,” he said.
Good bylaws can certainly help curb urban chicken abandonment because the farmers will be more dedicated and educated about what responsible chicken farming entails. Meantime, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is beginning to tell its shelters to keep an eye out for chicken orphans and be prepared should any come into their care.
All I can say to my neighbors in Saugeen Shores is "let's be careful in counting our chickens before they are hatched." The trial project may not be what it is cracked up to be! We may well end up with more than we bargained for and resultant egg on our collective faces!
If you ever have a chance, I would encourage you to watch the old "I Love Lucy" television episode film clip where Lucy, Fred and Ethel Mertz attempt to get into the chicken raising business, with hilarious consequences.